Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mail from...Home? (Iowa)

You would think that teaching about the place you are from would be an easy piece of cake.  I found out last week that that is definitely wrong.


In 6 years my kids have been to Iowa more than a dozen times.  They love it winter their when they get to stay in a cabin with all their cousins.  They love summer there because it means fresh sweet corn and swimming.  I wanted to try to stay away from teaching them generic stereo-typical things about my home state, but in the end, it's what they already knew and we decided instead to just dig a little deeper.

For some reason, learning about the Iowa state bird is a vivid memory from my childhood.
I guess my boys are turning out like me after all...
The rest of our lesson focused on farming and what crops/livestock are so important in Iowa.  My parents were not farmers, but we were always surrounded by the neat rows of corn and soybeans and that's what my kids see when we go there.  I found a great interactive video/game that teaches about corn specifically.  Check it out here:

And then we made barn and grain bin spinning wheels to show what types of items you might see and use in both.  The printables for that plus other activities are here:


And even though we didn't use it this time, I was very excited to come across the Iowa DNR website, which has a great resource page for teaching all kinds of science and nature related topics...


A lot of times I think Iowa gets a bum wrap as just another one of those flat midwestern states.  I always joke that anyone who has driven through Nebraska would never call Iowa flat.  It's beautiful with rolling hills and green, green, green.  I loved growing up there and I love taking my boys back there.  It was fun helping them understand a little more deeply the things which they've already seen!

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Little Library Love

Can I share with you one of the cutest books my kids have found at the library recently?

Boy and Bot

It's a super simple story of two friends playing and watching out for each other, and in this instance, the simplicity makes it very touching.  The illustrations are equally unassuming, but draw you in.  My boys LOVE looking for all the hidden robots and think it's so funny how the road between Boy and Bot's home  is connected.    

Be warned, though.  It's impossible to read this book without automatically switching on your best robot accent as you flip through the pages.

Do you have a favorite recent library find?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Is Coming!

Somebody we know who lives far away is about to get a very unexpected Easter Surprise!


Thanks to Jo at Jo, My Gosh! 
for the great idea of  sending an Easter Egg Hunt through the mail.

Ours included all kinds of candy, pencils, small toys, and
12 egg-filled messages about Easter.

If any one is interested in the 12 religious-themed messages and symbolic treasures we used,
 let me know.  I'd be happy to share!

We can't wait to find out our friends in North Carolina have received their surprise!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Where, Oh Where, Has My Tablecloth Gone?

What do you use to protect your crafting and activity areas? 

A few years back I attempted to make my own re-usable shopping bags out of vinyl tablecloths.  That project failed miserably and I was left with more intact cloths than I'd ever need for picnicking. That's the day vinyl tablecloths became my go-to crafting area cover-up.

There should be a cute picture, here, huh?  
That's the problem, my tablecloth is missing...

You have, of course, seen our table protectors before.  They've made appearances in picture we take for this blog.  Here are a few examples to refresh your memory...

Our old pink striped tablecloth
Our current fishy table cloth
I love that they cover the entire space (unlike place mats we've tried in the past) and are waterproof so paint spills and globs of glue don't leak through to the table.  When we're done I simply pull it up from the corners, take it outside for a good shake, and toss it in a drawer for use on another day.  

Sure, they get paint all over them, but that's the point, isn't it?  On the cloth and not on my table.  One extra nice thing is never having to scrape play dough off my table; throw out a vinyl table cloth and clean up is a breeze!  Every now and then I throw it in the wash for a little scrubbing power, but I just don't stress about keeping it too clean.  

Unfortunately, today my kids and I are driving each other a little crazy.  I have a fun painting project for them to do, but our fishy tablecloth has gone MIA.  I remember it hanging on the front porch railing for drying after it's last wash, and now I have absolutely no idea where it has ended up.  I have a small suspicion another adult in our house may have thrown it away, but as soon as I openly accuse him I know it'll show up in that really clever spot I decided to put it.  

I guess the painting will have to wait.  Maybe I'll try to entertain the kids with some baking.  And head out to Ross or TJ Max (they have super cute ones for $2-$3)  to replenish my vinyl tablecloth supply first thing tomorrow morning! (Watch for pictures next week of the new cloth and our painting project)

What do you use to keep your tables clean?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

He Thinks He's A Tiger

My husband and I found quite a sight when we woke up this morning...


...I've since then re-hidden all the Sharpies.

He promises me he only wants to be a tiger until the day after tomorrow...

Mail from...Oklahoma

I've talked a lot about creating lessons from the random things my kids sometimes happen to be interested in.  (see motorcycle sidecar racing and underwater worlds for examples).  This week we put a little twist on that theme-this time it was something random that I happened to be interested in.

It started while I was reading  Into the West: The Story of It's People.  The book's not that great, but it did talk a little bit about the Oklahoma Land Grab and that piqued my interest.


I found some great information on the Oklahoma Historical Society website and this clip from the movie "Far and Away."  (I ended up checking this movie out at our library-not for the kids, of course-and really enjoyed watching it.)


After talking about the Native Americans in Oklahoma, and a little bit about homesteading, I helped my boys participate in their own land grab.  They had to decide what to take with them...

Clothes, toys, books, and snacks.

I wanted them to think carefully about what they'd need in the wilderness, but when I turned around they'd emptied their entire dressers into their sleds and filled their shoes with nuts.  It was a good time to just smile and let them be.

Next they had to think about their mode of transportation...one sled has a string on it, so that worked perfectly.  We had to transfer supplies from the second sled into something a little more manageable...


I put 6 land "markers" in the yard...


...and then it was a race to see who could collect the most "land"...

video

My teenage neighbor came out at about the time as this video and looked at us very strangely.  It's like he's never seen kids running around with sleds and coolers full of clothes and snacks before...

My kids loved the running around part of this lesson, 
and it was so rewarding to share with them something that was intriguing to me.  

What was the last spontaneous lesson
 you and your kids shared?

You thought I forgot, didn't you?
The Oklahoma state bird is the Scissor-tailed Fly Catcher.
I'll bet you've never seen one of those!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mail from...New Mexico

Here is a state that our family knows A LOT about.  And we absolutely love it.  Every October we make the 9+ hour drive to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.  And while we're there we cram in as many amazing sites and attractions as possible!  Some of our favorites are, of course, the Balloon Fiesta itself...




In New Mexico it's impossible to ignore the history of the Native American people, so for our lesson we looked at examples of Native American artwork. We looked at the patterns in Navajo rugs, the different shades of turquoise, and horsehair pottery (my favorite, crafted by burning horse hairs onto the finished piece).

We attempted making Indian hieroglyphics and learned a valuable lesson to scrunch the paper before you do the drawing.  By the time Beck got done scrunching his drawing 20 times it had all but disappeared (which did drive home the point of erosion and aging, but made him pretty mad).  


 And, of course, Beck got excited learning about New Mexico's state bird, the road runner.  Raise your hand if you had no idea that the road runner was more than just an over-intelligent animated character.  I certainly didn't.  But here's a random fact for you:  The commuter train between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is called the Road Runner after their unique feathered friend.


Sadly, my kids had never seen a Road Runner cartoon, so we watched a few of those, too.  In case you've deprived your children, like I had mine, here's a little taste to whet their whistle...


Can you tell we really, really love New Mexico?  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sight & Nonsense Word Roads

My boys LOVE anything on wheels.  Recently they got to go to a monster truck rally and have been pretending to be monster truck drivers night and day since then.  I decided to capitalize on it with...


Using an 11x17 piece of photo matting I had leftover from a Christmas project, I first drew three winding roads and then colored in the "grass" all around them.  The top two roads include sight words and the bottom, longer road is filled with nonsense word combinations.  

Let me tell you, the boys were EXCITED!!  With a timer set for 1 minute on each road, they sped through the sight words in about half the time.  Then a road block.  Nonsense words are harder, obviously, and as Beck began to realize that he wasn't going to make it through the entire nonsense word course in the allotted time, he got frustrated and started giving up.  But that was the whole point!  Because next time the words will be a little easier and make a little more sense and his truck will driver further on the path.  It took him three tries to finish the nonsense words road and he was jumping up and down when he did. 

The Sight & Nonsense Word Road Course quickly became less of a challenge and now we use it as a great diversion when regular school is getting a little boring.  Maybe I'll flip it over and create a race car speed track on the other side!

What ways do you have 
for helping your children learn the nonsense words?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mail from...New York


Now this (the eastern blue bird) is a beautiful state bird!

New York state is such a diverse place!  We could have studied about the Catskills, or Niagara Falls, or a somewhat famous underground rodent that made an appearance earlier this week.  In desperate need of some hands-on creativity, we decided, instead, to recreate New York City...


 Using every block set we own, the boys and their dad worked on building skyscrapers, a zoo, a farm (okay, maybe not exactly from NYC), bridges and other landmarks.  


I especially love that my husband told them all about King Kong climbing the Empire State building and so that had to become part of their skyline.  Do you see him in the photo above?


Beck was adamant about leaving road space for his trucks to drive through when they finished.  His dad has driven a motorcoach in NYC and HIGHLY advised Beck against ever driving there, but he had his mind set!

Bonus for Mom after all the building was complete?  So easy to separate all those blocks into their own bins and put them away.  It's the cleanest I've seen their bedroom in weeks!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

More Math Ideas

I somehow made it through my first unit teaching addition and we've moved on to working with "minus" and "take away".  Thankfully Beck seemed to understand it just as well as "plus"  right from the beginning, because I'm beginning to realize I might not have much more than a kindergarten aptitude for math myself!

Here are a few of the ways we're practicing our addition and subtraction... 

We used snap cubes to add two groups and then put them in different orders
(tallest v smallest, colors, smallest # v largest #, etc)

I drew a number line on a Ziploc bag with permanent marker and put addition flash cards inside.
Beck used a dry erase marker on the bag to figure out the problems by moving the "zipper"
(If I were making this one again, I'd draw the numbers on top of the number line, closer to the zipper.  
The white sheet of paper is just to make it easier to see the numbers on the bag.)

 We started using a math journal.
The template comes from Ketchen's Kindergarten
and has prompts for every month of the school year.  

My husband was super cute one night suggesting we use a game spinner.
Since it only goes up to six, I'm going to make a little template with larger numbers to tape on top.

 And this week I just needed a break,
 so I filled a bowl with mini marshmallows and sent Beck into the living room with his worksheet.
He was supposed to use the marshmallows as counters and then could eat the "take-aways". 
 He did the whole worksheet in his head, ate the "take-aways", and brought me the rest.  I can handle that!

What other ways do you have to make math interesting?

Be sure to check out our  "Card Game Math", 
and bean counters (for your littler ones)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Zoob! Toy Building Sets

This original post was written with no sponsorship.
Post has been updated & affiliate links have been added.

Shortly before Christmas a few years ago I won a Zoob Building Set in a giveaway.  My boys were already getting Fisher Price Trio blocks from Santa Claus, so I put the set in the closet to bring out on a rainy day.

Well, it's not raining here, but it is FREEZING COLD!  We haven't been above 20 degrees in nearly two weeks.  Translate that into my kids have been stuck inside driving me crazy for more than two weeks.  Last week the choice was sell them to the gypsies (which they know is ALWAYS an option) or give them something new to do.  The Zoob building set has saved my sanity!

The set I received contained 35 building pieces and 5 instruction guides that build in difficulty. In less than a week B built every single one and moved on to making his own creations. P loves them too, but pretty much only makes perfectly straight swords or triangle "tents". The best thing about Zoobs is that they the join together as a joint, so the final product can be movable.

This is the "Circle Skier" Beck was most proud of at the end of his day of playing.  Since then we have added more sets and he has made a motorcycle larger than his brother, lots of robots & bugs, and a playhouse he could fit inside.

Building Toys

I love toys that encourage imagination and creativity.  I love toys that keep my boys entertained for long periods of time even more.  I highly recommend adding them to your "the kids are driving me crazy" rainy day arsenal!

Have a question about the Zoob Building Sets?
Let me know, I promise to answer honestly.



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mail from...Tennessee

I wasn't feeling too inspired the day Beck pulled Tennessee out of his postcard pile.  My last experience with the Volunteer state is that of my husband being stuck in the Memphis airport while our twins were being born.  Adding to my lack of enthusiasm, the Tennessee state bird is the mockingbird, which we've already studied.

Luckily, the nice child who sent this postcard included a long list of songs related to Tennessee.  They included:



While we were listening to these and a few others Beck informed me he did not want to live in Tennessee because it was not peaceful.  I was reminded that he does not like to have a lot of music playing.  He doesn't like the radio in the background for sure.  Since we were listening to Tennessee songs he thought that must be what living in Tennessee is like.

All in all, this lesson was a wash, but Beck did really enjoy this video...


Tell me, what is Y-9D?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mail from...Alaska

I LOVE when I have an idea for an okay lesson that Beck gets carried away with and pretty soon we've come up with something pretty cool!  That's what's happening right now-I had animal flash cards to divide into groups by number of legs or stripes/no stripes.  He, of course, took it a step farther and is now busily drawing an 11x14 "habitat" where all those animals can live.  He's amazing!

That's exactly what happened a few weeks ago when we pulled out our Alaska postcard!  (Oddly enough, the topic was animal related that day, too).  The postcard itself had no extra information written on it, but did have a cute cartoon of Alaska's baby animals.  I tested myself a minute, trying to remember the Alaska state bird and then was transported back to my time living there.  It really is a place where everything you hear about or see on tv is 100% real.
Alaska State Bird: Ptarmigan
We decided to use google images to find pictures of baby animals that live in Alaska.  We came up with photos for wolves, caribous, marmots, puffins, beluga whales, lynx, grizzly bears, salmon, mountain goats, and polar bears.

For an activity I found a simple tutorial to make a pop-up greeting card on Enchanted Learning.  I was excited to finally figure out how to do something as easy as that.  Beck's mind was running way ahead of mine and before I knew it we'd printed out all our baby animal images for him to put into his greeting card.
What was the last activity your children took eons farther than you had planned for?

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